Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Correspondence: You Can't Recreate An Era

As I've mentioned here in the past, I love reading letters! Especially letters from many, many years ago, the letters of famous persons. But not only famous people. The letters of those who aren't so famous hold my interest as well. I don't know what it is, but this look at "unfiltered" history keeps me engrossed. I realize letters are not completely unfiltered history, as the letter writer may indeed have altered the historical record as they wrote. But it's much closer, in the aggregate, to unfiltered history than anything else we have.

I have a fairly large collection of published letters, some read, some not read. I have them in print books acquired used through the years. I have many downloads of PDFs of books of letters, through the miracles of and Google books. I even have some of our own letters that we sent home from when we lived overseas, and letters from the home front during World War 2. I also have access to various collections of letters available for reading on-line. The Library of Congress has a huge Thomas Jefferson collection of letters, and the Carlyle Letters On-line is providing me lots of good information in my current research. Sometimes they are collections of letters—that is, the out-going letters of a person. Sometimes they are collections of correspondence—that is, the letters that passed two ways between individuals. That's how the Carlyle-Emerson correspondence is, all the extant letters of both men to each other.

Through my reading of letters, I have come to the point where I long to have a correspondent, or even several, with whom I can discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of many things, such as happiness, health, literature, genealogy, etc. I have a few people I've corresponded with who fit that description. But maintaining the flow of correspondence is difficult when other means of communication are so readily available. When you've talked with someone on the phone, it seems silly to then write a lengthy epistle to discuss things with them. When you drove 200 or 600 miles to spend a long weekend with someone, correspondence over the next week seems somewhat pointless.

In recent days I've had occasion to "post" a couple of letters to people via e-mail. One was a business letter to a professor concerning my Carlyle research. That chain of letters has grown to four in number, all related to Carlyle and the professor's project and my project. But they are short, especially the last one. And they are business related, not creative. Of course, that's okay by me. I enjoy reading the business letters. Heck, most of the letters I've written in my life have been business letters for my employer. If anyone ever wanted to gather my letters and publish them, they would have more from Black & Veatch, KEO, and CEI than they would personal letters.

Wishing I had correspondents isn't a bad thing, but I need to keep in mind that, even with correspondents, I will not be able to carry it on in a way that people did in the past. The world and technology has changed too much. People don't communicate as they used to, and, some kind of apocalypse excepted, probably never will again. I can seek correspondents, but will need to learn to be satisfied with something different, and undoubtedly diminished, from what they had in the past.


Gary said...

Dave, you can continue corresponding with me, but I'll be fairly terse in response.

David A. Todd said...

Thanks, Gary. Will do.

vero said...

The art of letter writing does seem like a romantic notion.